A Cincinnati native and lifelong dancer is overseeing the expansion of a national nonprofit that’s grown to eight communities, published a book and is helping to bridge the literacy gap for 400 children nationwide.
The nonprofit is Ballet & Books, and its founder got inspiration for the organization while doing a fellowship at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. A Cincinnati chapter is in the works for this year.
Talia Bailes graduated from Sycamore High School and then Cornell University in 2020, and is now enrolled in medical school at the University of Michigan.
“2022 has been a phenomenal year,” said Bailes. “We have been able to sustain chapters in eight communities, publish a diversity-centric children’s book and bridge the literacy gap for over 400 children nationwide.”
The goal of the book, published July 1, is to reach more families who may not have access to the organizations Ballet & Books programming yet, while also sharing its mission and values with children everywhere. Proceeds from the book support the nonprofit’s programs.
The nonprofit works to close the literacy gap through the hybrid storytelling of dance and reading. In its programming led by college students, it provides 3-9-year-olds with an opportunity to gain mentorship, dance training and literacy experiences. The program targets children who do not typically have access to such programs.
“We hope to reach more communities nationwide and gain traction for our movement bridging dance and literacy,” said Bailes.
Bailes just started to expand her nonprofit outside of Cornell’s in Ithaca, New York, when the pandemic shut down in-person dance. Instead of being slowed down by the pandemic, Bailes has been determined to grow her organization and adapt to meet the needs of the children it serves.
Bailes’ nonprofit works through a system of chapters, working with local university students as teaching artists and partnering with nearby libraries, schools and community centers to host programming. The organization trains dancer volunteers to provide one-on-one mentorship to children who are most at risk of falling behind in their enthusiasm and ability to read. Before the pandemic, Ballet and Books had three chapters. Today, there are eight across multiple states — at least 100 college students working with more than 100 children every semester.
“During COVID we realized that our kids were going to be among those most impacted,” said Bailes. “It was so unfair that some children were able to get tutoring online, or were learning in pods, but our kids were not having those opportunities. We really wanted to make sure that they had access to what they need, which is what led to the creation of all these new chapters.”
Bailes also wanted them to have access to literacy materials at home. But she was frustrated because there were not a lot of resources aimed at getting kids dancing. So she wrote When We Read: A Movement Book. llustrations by Julia Schultz integrate diversity, including children of different abilities, backgrounds and ethnicities.
Bailes started medical school in 2022, while also managing a national nonprofit.
“Ideally in the coolest world,” she said, “every child in every community would have access to free dance and literacy programming.”